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University of Oregon receives $800K from EPA for wildfire smoke research facility

Wildfire smoke as encountered in September 2020 by drivers in southeast Bend
Wildfire smoke as encountered in September 2020 by drivers in southeast Bend

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced the University of Oregon has received $800,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to officially launch its Center for Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice.

The senators secured the funding for this crucial community-initiated project to help ensure Oregon communities are better prepared for wildfire smoke events.

“Nearly every Oregonian has in some way experienced the growing threat that wildfires pose to our lives, livelihoods, and health,” said Senator Merkley, Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee which funded this grant. “This critical funding for the University of Oregon’s Center for Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice will help to expand our understanding and improve our abilities to mitigate and reduce the harmful effects wildfire smoke has on Oregonians across the state.”

“Every summer, smoke plagues our communities for longer and longer periods of time, harming Oregonians’ health and livelihoods,” Wyden said. “I am proud to have fought to secure funding for further study how communities large and small can mitigate the harmful effects of wildfire smoke.”

The announcement comes at a critical time, with increasingly devastating wildfires becoming a serious public health issue. Wildfire smoke—not only from Oregon’s fires, but also drifting into the state from as far away as Canada or Southern California—has become a hazard each summer, especially for vulnerable Oregonians struggling with respiratory diseases, asthma, or homelessness. Data from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows unhealthy air quality days attributable to wildfire smoke has sharply increased since 2015, as smoke can stretch from one end of the state to the other, posing a major challenge for many communities, businesses, and agriculture operations.

The new Center for Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice created by the University of Oregon will serve as a hub for sharing data and information between practitioners, researchers, and others to produce actionable ways Oregon communities, local governments, and agencies can better prepare for wildfire smoke events. Their initial research will focus on three key areas:

  1. Community and household planning and preparation: efforts to support community and household adaption to living with wildfire smoke
  2. Smoke communication: examine past smoke risks and protective actions by organizations to better inform future public smoke messaging consistency
  3. Emergency response, planning, and communications effectiveness: evaluate the effectiveness of planning, preparation, and response during smoke events in order to identify future actions 

“At the University of Oregon, we are so excited to launch the Center for Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice with the goal of supporting Oregon communities to become more resilient in the face of increasing wildfire smoke,” said Cassandra Moseley, Research Professor and Vice Provost of Academic Operations and Strategy at the University of Oregon, who is helming the new Wildfire Smoke Research and Practice Center. “We will conduct research driven by community needs and support the growing collaborative networks of practitioners and researchers working to improve conditions for vulnerable community members.”

Merkley visited with Moseley and other leaders of the Center in the Fall of 2022 to learn more about their research and benefits for Oregon. This new Center will build on the university’s existing activities through the Ecosystem Workforce Program, and will also involve students and faculty from the School of Journalism and Communication’s Center for Science Communication Research, among others on campus.

This $800,000 in EPA funding is part of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations portion of the FY 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act. As the Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, Merkley led the drafting of this portion of the bill, and fought to ensure that Oregon’s priorities were included. The Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included critical funding to help make Oregon’s forests more resilient, support rural communities, protect public lands and the environment, bolster important programs for tribes, and more.

Article Topic Follows: Environment

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